Uber has been in the news a lot recently, but not always for the right reasons. While the company recently raised $1.2billion, it has also made headlines for its ongoing legal troubles, which are shared by Lyft, Uber’s main competition as a ride-sharing platform.
But these legal challenges aren’t unique to Uber or even ride-sharing platforms. Many platforms have experienced legal trouble as they start to cross over to the mainstream. PayPal had big issues with fraud early on, YouTube and Twitch both had big problems with copyright infringement by their producers, Lending Club and other peer-to-peer lending companies initially ran afoul of the Securities Act of 1933 and of course Airbnb has had problems with current hotel laws in many of the countries it operates in.
This legal trouble happens because platforms are a new, disruptive way of doing business in each of these markets, but the laws are still oriented around the old ways of doing business. As a result, these platforms often operate in a legal grey area.
The usual strategy for dealing with this challenge (taken by most of the above companies) is to get big really fast and then to try to use your popularity as a way to legitimize yourself. Uber has obviously used this strategy as well, which only underlines how important expansion is to Uber. It needs to continue to grow in order to be able to have the popular support to convince local or national politicians they should work with Uber rather than against it.
While many incumbents in these industries have reacted negatively to these disruptive innovations, the sharing economy has only continued to grow.
While the support of a growing chorus of satisfied users has played a big part, we wouldn’t have gotten this far without the determined efforts of a few individuals. So to give credit where it’s due, here is our list of five of the top platform evangelists who are working hard to help government and business embrace the sharing economy and move into the 21st century.
Rachel Botsman is the author of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption and the founder of Collaborative Lab, which helps companies and governments work together to support the sharing economy. She’s given two TED talks with nearly 2 million views, including The Case for the Collaborative Consumption, where she makes a common-sense case for why you should support the sharing economy.
“Technology is enabling trust between strangers,” she says. “We now live in a global village, where we can mimic the ties that used to happen face to face – but on a scale and in ways that have never been possible before. Social networks and real time technologies are taking us back: we’re borrowing, trading, swapping and sharing.”
Arun Sundararajan is the Professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences at NYU Stern, where he studies digital economics. He is one of the leading public voices on the sharing economy and government regulation. He is a frequent TV guest and writes regularly about the sharing economy, including in the New York Times.
Here’s Sundararajan in a recent interview with Reuters on the sharing economy’s long-term strategy for dealing with regulation: “They’re blurring the boundaries between personal and professional service. And when the system is set up to expect professional providers, then sometime the only strategy is to launch to prove that you’re popular and use that as leverage to change the system.”
David Hantman leads Airbnb’s efforts to work with local and federal regulators to help build legal frameworks that embrace the sharing economy rather than reject it. He also writes frequently on Airbnb’s public policy blog.
When Airbnb has run into legal trouble, like in New York, he has been a champion for the company’s users, such as when he refused the New York Attorney General’s request because it was too broad. He “made it clear…that we would never agree to this type of government-sponsored fishing expedition.” While Airbnb was eventually required to hand over data to the Attorney General, the data was largely anonymized and only around 100 hosts were directly identified.
Uber announced Plouffe’s hiring in a blog post suggesting he was brought on board to “lead campaign Uber,” a task he is well suited for.
Before joining Uber, David Plouffe was one of the Obama campaign’s most high-profile operatives. With that background, he was brought on board to help Uber unravel the increasingly tangled web of local and federal regulations that it faces.
Here’s what Plouffe had to say about why he wanted to join the fight for the sharing economy:
Uber has the chance to be a once in a decade if not a once in a generation company. Of course, that poses a threat to some, and I’ve watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change. Ultimately, that approach is unwinnable. But I look forward to doing what I can right now to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation due to those who want to maintain a monopoly and play the inside game to deny opportunity to those on the outside.
Previously the Legal Director of Google X, David Estrada is no stranger to working with new and experimental technologies. At Google, he led the legal effort behind Google’s self-driving car, and was able to get laws enacted in three states, including Google’s home state of California. Now at Lyft, he is working with regulators and government officials to help overcome the company’s legal challenges.
“I think how we have to start is by understanding the interests of local policymakers,” he told TechCrunch. “To educate them about what Lyft is and how it operates, the relationship between us and the drivers, and answer any questions they have about safety and insurance.”
With his experience dealing with transportation issues at Google, Estrada is well equipped for the challenge.
As the sharing economy grows, platforms will only continue become an even more important part of our economy and our society. Rather than rejecting these new ways of doing business out of hand, we should learn how best to adapt our legal and regulatory frameworks so that they embrace the innovation and value being unlocked by the sharing economy.
These are only a few of the people who have led the fight for platform businesses, but they each have played a significant role in the Connected Revolution.
Think we missed someone? Let us know in the comments below.
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